Child Rights Coalition Malaysia (CRCM) is deeply concerned about the recent arrest of two Penan children at a blockade at the Murum dam in Ulu Belaga, Sarawak. Newspaper reports indicate that the first child, age 13 years old, who was arrested on Thursday, was allegedly "arrested for taking pictures of the arrest". NGO reports indicate that the second child, age 16 years old, was allegedly arrested when he went to visit the other detainees at the police station. The two minors along with 8 other adults are currently being held on remand for three days at the Belaga police station.
CRCM questions the decision to arbitrarily detain these children and seeks justification. Article 37 (b) of the UNCRC requires that formal arrest and detention of a child be used only as a measure of last resort. Article 3 clearly states that the best interest of the child is of paramount importance. Having signed and acceded to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Malaysia is compelled to uphold these rights and the best interest of children at all times. Failure to use detention as a last resort is a serious violation of children's rights.
CRCM is specifically concerned about the protection and welfare of these two children while being detained pending trial. Although the Child Act 2001 provides some protection, the Act provides little guidance on specific safeguards during arrest and detention. This therefore may result in serious violation of their rights including children being remanded for lengthy periods of time. According to the latest information available to CRCM the children are on remand without legal representation.
Section 87 of the Child Act 2001 specifically asserts that upon arrest, police must inform the parents/guardian and a probation officer of the arrest of the child. The probation officer will be tasked with upholding the best interest of the child and will provide necessary guidance for the judiciary and police to do the same. It is unclear from the present facts if a welfare officer has been informed.
CRCM is also very disappointed by the actions of the Police who should have exercised discretion in not arresting children and the second class magistrate who could have exercised discretion not to extend the remand order for the 13 year old child. Failure to exercise such discretion is a violation of the best interest principle.
The Malaysian government voted to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) on 13 September 2007. Fundamental principles of the UNDRIP include the right of indigenous populations to self-determination and free, prior and informed consent where decisions related to native customary lands are concerned. In relation to the events surrounding the Murum Dam project, both the UNDRIP and UN CRC provide for indigenous children to participate in peaceful assemblies and be heard in matters that affect them.
CRCM strongly urges the immediate release of both the children and the cessation of further arrests and detention of the Penan community. CRCM also strongly urges steps to be taken to sensitise officers about children's rights, as provided by the UNCRC and UNDRIP, so that children will be treated with dignity and their best interests receive paramount consideration.
Child Rights Coalition Malaysia does not have access to the full details of the cases. Our views are based on news and limited community reports, known legislations and the international commitments of Malaysia.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer or organisation and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malay Mail Online.